As a potent greenhouse gas, methane has far more influence on the global climate than carbon dioxide. It may come from natural resources such as industrial facilities, agriculture, oil and gas extraction, and wetland water bodies. To better track the source of methane and how it accumulates and moves in the atmosphere, NASA has just created a new 3D mapping tool that lays the foundation for research to mitigate the effects of this greenhouse gas.
“Methane acts like carbon dioxide, but long-standing human activity has allowed it to increase faster than natural removal offsets,” said Abhishek Chatterjee, carbon cycle scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
NASA Models Methane Sources, Movement Around Globe (via)
Factors such as continued population growth, energy use, agriculture and rice cultivation, and livestock raising all affect methane emissions. However, due to the lack of measurements and responses, especially the incomplete understanding of carbon-climate feedback, it is difficult to predict future trends.
NASA says methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution, and its molecules have a greenhouse effect far beyond carbon dioxide. The agency estimates that methane contributes 20 to 30 percent of global warming so far.
Given the eagerness to find out how methane accumulates in the atmosphere in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of global warming, NASA hopes the newly built 3D map will better apply the data collected by satellites.
Combined with emission inventories and computer modeling in different countries, the system enables more comprehensive calculations of methane emissions from natural resources, such as wetland types, and simulates the decomposition of methane in the atmosphere.
The agency then used a weather model to see how wind affects the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over a long period of time. In the end, the researchers came up with some interesting insights.
For example, the global wetlands contribute more than 60 percent of methane production in the tropics, and waste disposal increases emissions in South Asia by 1.5 percent. At the same time, 70% of methane emissions from the Arctic come from natural resources, but 85% in East Asia is due to human activity.
“The priority is to understand the sources of emissions so that we can better reduce methane emissions when there is an opportunity,” said Ben Poulter, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.